Forgive the pun, but Antonio Banderas is the cat that got the cream. If playing the legendary masked swordsman Zorro defined his Hollywood career in the 1990s, his cartoon Shrek character Puss in Boots – inspired by Zorro – has done the same in the past decade. No wonder DreamWorks commissioned a spin-off. Following the Shrek blueprint, this CGI adventure is a mish-mash of fairy tales and pop culture nods: the only thing you won't find is a titular green ogre.
An origin story, Cat In Boots (the title was changed from the original, Puss In Boots, for distribution in the UAE and other parts of the Gulf) is set before our feline hero ever met Shrek and co. At the outset, he's a wanted cat for reasons that become clear during an extended flashback to his orphaned youth, living with his former pal Humpty "Alexander" Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). Fate brings him back in touch with his estranged friend, as well as the slick pickpocket Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), whose silky skills and sexy wiggle soon has Puss purring.
As one fairy tale crashes merrily into another, the plot sees Humpty plan to relieve those old hill-climbers Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris) of their magic beans, grow them into a giant beanstalk, and scale it to steal the goose that lays golden eggs. I can't say I ever remember Humpty Dumpty being so nefarious, but The Hangover star Galifianakis voices his character with verve.
Banderas and Hayek, of course, go way back, to Robert Rodriguez's 1995 film Desperado – and their effortless chemistry simply crackles here. A shame the same can't be said for Thornton and Sedaris, who are rather wasted as the ghastly Jack and Jill. A running joke about them wanting children doesn't work, and their half-hearted role as antagonists gives the two actors almost nothing to chew on.
Rather, the film depends on Banderas's charm, which he delivers in spades, and the script's cute appeal. As you might expect, this is beanstalk-high, not least when our hero deploys his main weapon to overcome dangerous foes, widening his eyes and mewing (a comic gem that, wisely, the filmmakers only resort to once).
Even if the plot feels ramshackle, it's the little details such as these that make Cat In Boots a delight. It's hard not to fall for a film when its hero walks into a saloon, full of hard-drinking bandits, and starts slurping a saucer of milk. Likewise, the "dance-off" between Puss and Kitty, as they attempt to out-do each other in an intricate flamenco-inspired routine, is lovely to watch.
Shot in 3D, Cat In Boots delivers well enough on the set-piece front: an early rooftop chase is truly spectacular, and the ascent of the beanstalk – complete with a wonderful moment in the clouds – is captivating. If there's a let-down, it's in the final act; the golden goose theft, and the subsequent fall-out, never quite grabs.
Still, with the Shrek franchise reputedly over and the global box office numbers already racking up for this film – US$175 million (Dh643m) and counting – don't be surprised if Banderas's furry feline is given another outing. On this evidence, a sequel wouldn't be a cat-astrophe (sorry).